In space, the US sees a rival in China

Christopher Davidson
January 7, 2019

It represents the first ever such attempt and landing on the far side of the Moon, which has distinct characteristics to the near side we can see from Earth.

Yutu-2, atop the probe, extended its solar panel, stretched out its mast and started to slowly fly to the lunar surface Thursday night.

A Chinese lunar rover has driven on the far side of the moon, the national space agency announced on Friday, hailing the development as a "big step for the Chinese people". Chang'e-4 can't communicate directly with mission scientists back on Earth.

During the final round, Yutu-2 stood out from nine other names in online voting and a special committee discussion.

The far side of the moon is more rugged than the near side, so Chinese officials adjusted the descent trajectory for the Chang'e 4 mission to a more vertical profile from the curved profile used on Chang'e 3, China's previous lunar lander which touched down on the near side in 2013.

It then released a rover, named Yutu-2, which rolled out onto the surface down a ramp.

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The record-breaking lander-rover is outfitted with a variety of instruments, including several cameras, spectrometers, a radar system and a dosimeter.

"It's a small step for the rover, but one giant leap for the Chinese nation", Wu Weiren, the chief designer of the Lunar Exploration Project, told state broadcaster CCTV, in a twist of USA astronaut Neil Armstrong's famous comment when he became the first human to walk on the moon in 1969.

The rover's designer, Shen Zhenrong of the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation, described the far side of the moon's surface to the state broadcaster CCTV as "soft" and "similar to that when you are walking on the snow", the AP reported. It has a maximum speed of 0.1 miles per hour and can climb a 20-degree hill or mount an obstacle up to 8 inches tall, the report said.

The Chang'e-4 lunar probe was launched from the Xichang Satellite Launch Center in southwest China on December 8, 2018, and entered orbit around the Moon five days later.

China was the first to complete a "soft landing", without damage, on the far side of the moon. "This is a first for humanity and an impressive accomplishment!"

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